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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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All of my external firewire storage went corrupt and my firewire controller seems to have failed in my primary file server at home. As a stroke of luck, I was only using external storage as a backup for the internal, so as of yet (the machine has been hibernated in preparation for a safer data storage area) I’ve lost no data, but I’m running scared.

As a result, I have decided I’ve been resisting a true battery-backed raid-based file server long enough, and I’m tired of data loss fears every few months when a lightning storm takes out some disks. I built a brand new box with four .25T SATA drives; three in a RAID-5 array, one as a hot spare with automatic integration into a degraded array. Something inside of me dies when I realize I’m only getting .5T out of the deal, but it is what it is. This is all connected to a 3ware switched SATA hardware RAID controller (no battery backup unit, as I’ll be running external UPS and couldn’t think of a situation short of power supply failure that would cause me to need it … and by turning off write caching I should be safe in 99% of situations). Other hardware includes an Athlon 64 3000+, 1G ram, some random MSI motherboard (the only appropriate Tyan boards were dual-proc opteron boards these days, and I didn’t really want to go that route), and an honest-to-god Intel NIC (yes, I’ve given up on RTL83139 cards), and whatever PCI video card I pulled out of my parts bin.

Now is good time to mention that cable routing for four SATA drives is so much easier than for the same number of PATA drives. I’m down to only the CD drive being PATA, because it seemed silly and expensive to bother with using an SATA version. This is especially handy as the only place my controller fits is on the bottom-most slot, where it also manages to overhang the headers for bezel hardware and all of the diagnostic/UBS connectors for the motherboard. If I add another array to this box, it’s going to require a different profile card, and a magical way of engineering some more room for disks.

Everything is sitting inside a well-ventilated all-aluminum Lian-Li case. I’ve worked with a lot of cases over the last decade, and I’ve got to say the serviceability and build quality of this Lian-Li is excellent. Only thumbscrews are included. Hurrah! There are trays for the motherboard, the power supply, and 5-disk drive cage. There are easy-remove side panels, an easy-remove front bezel, and gobs of ventilation. There are only two minor irritations, and both stem from the fact that I’m using a somewhat unorthodox CPU cooler. First, the included ductwork to vent from the CPU area is useless and won’t fit. Second, the blower that goes over the expansion card cage is mounted where the PCI-Express slot is, which would be swell if I had a fast video card, but this is a server, so this slot is empty, and my RAID controller, which is the only thing likely to get hot, is uncovered. This blower also overhangs the CPU cooler, and needed some spacing washers to prevent from adding a shearing force to the CPU. Also, depending on your opinion, the lack of quick-release 5.25" and 3.5" slots could be a hassle, but I prefer a solid physical connection via screws to the plastic/metal rails I’ve used in the past.

Oh right, there’s also some goofy-named Thermaltake 480W power supply with fan controller, a meter-long wiring harness (slight exaggeration), and an external power switch. It has two SATA power connectors, but I need four, so I had to use a legacy molex to SATA power splitter. Otherwise, it’s the first time I have had about six extra power cables from the power supply, rather than having to use a half dozen splitters.